Fitness: Benefits of Tai Chi for Seniors

Getting enough exercise is often a challenge for people, and it can be even more difficult for seniors if they have limitations. The problem for many is exercise isn’t always the most exciting activity, but solutions such as tai chi can make it different and even fun.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art which has been practiced for generations. Over the years, it has been adapted for various purposes, including training for sports and for defense. Tai Chi has been praised for its health benefits, and modern forms vary based on the intention of the participants.

Common elements in all forms of tai chi include concentration on breathing, deliberate movements and meditation. Movement may be fast or slow but is repetitive, making it easy to learn and follow. Some variations include a faster version more similar to dancing and two-person exercises where one person pushes on the other person’s hands while moving.

Tai Chi for Seniors

Tai Chi is becoming a popular trend as an exercise option for seniors. When designed for this age group, the movements are slow, with footwork choreographed by a leader. Participants learn to breathe correctly, focusing on how they intake and release air while moving.

Concentrating on each movement helps the mind to relax and relieves stress. The person is often calmer and has more energy after a session. Deep breathing and learning to focus helps improve balance, which can help prevent falls and injuries.

The Benefits of Tai Chi

  • Tai Chi offers many advantages to seniors. Physical benefits include the following:
  • Improves balance, helping to reduce falls; also strengthens muscles in the legs and increases flexibility and stability in the ankles
  • Improves core strength to enhance stability and reduce back pain
  • Increases strength and function for people with chronic or serious illnesses, such as cancer
  • May improve immune function

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada demonstrated how tai chi can help people with specific conditions, including heart failure, osteoarthritis, breast cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. While it won’t cure the conditions, the exercise helps improve balance, posture and strength, according to the report. In fact, a study from the Emory University School of Medicine showed that Tai Chi classes help reduce falls risk by almost 50%. Tai chi is gentle on the joints and won’t increase pain or cause the person to be short of breath.

In addition to the physical components of tai chi, this form of exercise has mental and emotional advantages. Some studies have shown people who perform tai chi on a regular basis see improvements in cognitive function and memory.

The meditation and breathing aspects of the exercise help reduce depression, anxiety and other emotional or mental health conditions. Furthermore, getting out to attend classes and interacting with others can give seniors something to look forward to.

Getting Started with Tai Chi For Seniors

If you or a loved one could benefit from tai chi, look for classes in your area. Many senior facilities offer these classes or you can sign up at other exercise centres. No special equipment is needed, and any comfortable loose-fitting clothing is appropriate for the exercises. This makes it an affordable alternative for many retired persons.

Classes are often offered two to three times per week, but each person can go as they feel able. DVDs are available for the person who is homebound, even though it is recommended to work with a professional for a few sessions to ensure you know the proper posture and safe techniques.

What Are Tai Chi Movements?

Tai Chi is a slow and gentle exercise that is suitable for older adults, even if they are managing chronic conditions. It offers the benefits of flexibility, muscle strengthening, and endurance training. Tai Chi can improve the health of seniors without worsening existing impairments.

Simplified Tai Chi

FORM 1: OPENING FORM

FORM 2

FORM 3

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Tai chi is a viable exercise option for all ages, but it provides several advantages for older people who are limited on their capabilities. Besides being something new to interest seniors, it enables them to maintain function and improve their health in a safe way.

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